Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 143–155 | Cite as

Beyond False Beliefs: The Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Perceptions of Children’s Theory of Mind Measure—Experimental Version (PCToMM-E)

  • Tiffany L. HutchinsEmail author
  • Laura A. Bonazinga
  • Patricia A. Prelock
  • Rebecca S. Taylor
Original Paper


The Perceptions of Children’s Theory of Mind Measure (Experimental version; PCToMM-E) is an informant measure designed to tap children’s theory of mind competence. Study one evaluated the measure when completed by primary caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Scores demonstrated high test–retest reliability and correlated with verbal mental age and ToM task battery performance. No ceiling effects were observed. In addition, caregivers accurately predicted their children’s ToM task battery performance. In study two the scores of primary caregivers of typically developing children demonstrated high test–retest reliability and distinguished children on the basis of age and developmental status. Ceiling effects were not evident until late childhood. The utility of the PCToMM-E and directions for future research are discussed.


Autism Theory of mind Assessment Children False belief 



Portions of this paper were presented at the annual conference of the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (November, 2006, Miami, FL). Data from study 2 were originally collected and analyzed by the second author as part of an undergraduate honor’s thesis.


  1. Astington, J. W. (1988). Promises: Words or deeds? First Language, 8, 259–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Astington, J. W. (1999). The language of intention: Three ways of doing it. In P. D. Zelazo, J. W. Astington, & D. R. Olson (Eds.), Developing theories of intention: Social understanding and self-control (pp. 295–315). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Astington, J. W. (2001). The future of theory-of-mind research: Understanding motivational states, the role of language, and real-world consequences. Child Development, 72, 685–687.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Astington, J. W. (2005). Introduction: Why language matters. In J. W. Astington & J. A. Baird (Eds.), Why language matters for theory of mind (pp. 3–25). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Astington, J. W., & Jenkins, J. M. (1995). Theory of mind development and social understanding. Cognition & Emotion, 9, 151–165.Google Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989a). Are autistic children “behaviorists”? An examination of their mental-physical and appearance–reality distinctions. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 19, 579–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989b). The autistic child’s theory of mind: A case of specific developmental delay. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 30, 285–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baron-Cohen, S. (1991). Do people with Autism understand what causes emotion? Child Development, 62, 385–395.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baron-Cohen, S. (1992). Out of sight or out of mind? Another look at deception in autism. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 33, 1141–1155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Baron-Cohen, S. (1997). Hey! It was just a joke! Understanding propositions and propositional attitudes by normally developing children and children with autism. Israel Journal of Psychiatry, 34, 174–178.Google Scholar
  11. Baron-Cohen, S. (2000). Theory of mind in autism: A fifteen year review. In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from developmental neuroscience (pp. 3–20). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Baron-Cohen, S. (2003). The essential difference: The truth about the male and female mind. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  13. Beatson, J. E., & Prelock, P. A. (2002). The Vermont Rural Autism Project: Sharing experiences, shifting attitudes. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(1), 48–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Begeer, S., Rieffe, C., Meerum Terwogt, M., & Stockmann, L. (2003). Theory of mind-based action in children from the autism spectrum. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 33, 479–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Craig, J. (1997). An investigation of imagination and creativity in autism. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Crais, E. R. (1993). Families and professionals as collaborators in assessment. Topics in Language Disorders 14, 29–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Examiner’s manual for the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (3rd ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  18. Fenson, L., Dale, P., Reznick, S., Thal, D., Bates, E., Hartung, J., Penthick, S., & Reilly, J. (1991). Technical manual for the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories. San Diego, CA: San Diego State University.Google Scholar
  19. Flavell, J. H., Green, E. R., & Flavell, E. R. (1986). Development of knowledge about the appearance–reality distinction. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 5 (1).Google Scholar
  20. Gradel, K., Thompson, M., & Sheehan, R. (1981). Parental and professional agreement in early childhood assessment. Topics in Early Childhood and Special Education, 1, 31–39.Google Scholar
  21. Hadwin, J., Baron-Cohen, S., Howlin, P., & Hill. K. (1996). Can we teach children with autism to understand emotions, belief, or pretence? Development & Psychopathology, 8, 345–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Happe, F. (1994). An advanced test of theory of mind: Understanding the story characters thoughts and feelings by able autistic mentally handicapped and normal children and adults. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 24, 129–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Happe, F. (1995). The role of age and verbal ability in the theory of mind task performance of subjects with autism. Child Development, 66, 843–855.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hughes, C., Adlam, A., Happe, F., Jackson, J., Taylor, A., & Caspi, A. (2000). Good test–retest reliability for standard and advanced false-belief tasks across a wide range of abilities. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 41, 483–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hutchins, T. L., Prelock, P., & Chase, W. (in review). Test–retest reliability of ToM tasks for children with ASD. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities..Google Scholar
  26. Kazak, S., Collis, G. M., & Lewis, V. (1997). Can young people with Autism refer to knowledgestates? Evidence from their understanding of “know” and “guess”. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 38, 1001–1009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klin, A. (2000). Attributing social meaning to ambiguous visual stimuli in higher-functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome: The social attribution task. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 7, 831–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lalonde, C. E., & Chandler, M. J. (1995). False belief understanding goes to school: On the social-emotional consequences of coming early or late to a first theory of mind. Cognition & Emotion, 9, 167–186.Google Scholar
  29. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind”. Psychological Review, 94, 412–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1988). Autistic children’s understanding of seeing, knowing and believing. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 6, 315–324.Google Scholar
  31. Leekam, S., & Perner, J. (1991). Does the autistic child have a metarepresentational deficit? Cognition, 40, 203–218.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lord, C., Rutter, M., DiLavore, P. C., & Risi, S. (1999). Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-WPS Edition. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  33. Mayes, L., Klin, A., Tercyak, K. P., Cicchetti, D. V., & Cohen, D. J. (1996). Test–retest reliability for false-belief tasks. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 313–319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McCauley, R. (2001). Assessment of language disorders in children. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  35. Miller, S. A. (2000). Children’s understanding of preexisting differences in knowledge and belief. Developmental Review, 20, 227–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miller, C. A. (2006). Developmental relationships between language and theory of mind. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15, 142–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mitchell, P., Saltmarsh, R., & Russell, H. (1997). Overly literal interpretations of speech in autism: Understanding that messages arise from minds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 38, 658–691.Google Scholar
  38. Ozonoff, S., & Miller, J. N. (1995). Teaching theory of mind: A new approach to social skills training for individuals with autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 25, 415–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Perner, J., Frith, U., Leslie, A. M., & Leekam, S. (1989). Exploration of the autistic child’s theory of mind: Knowledge, belief, and communication. Child Development, 60, 689–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Perner, J., Sprung, M., & Steinkogler, B. (2004). Counterfactual conditionals and false belief: A developmental dissociation. Cognitive Development, 19, 179–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Prelock, P. A. (2006). Autism spectrum disorders: Issues in assessment & intervention. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Prelock, P. A., Beatson, J., Bitner, B., Broder, C., & Ducker, A. (2003). Interdisciplinary assessment for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 194–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Prelock, P. A., Beatson, J., Contompasis, S., & Bishop, K. KI. (1999). A model for family-centered interdisciplinary practice in the community. Topics in Language Disorders, 19, 36–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Prior, M., Dahlstrom, B., & Squires, T. L. (1990). Autistic children’s knowledge of thinking and feeling in other people. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 31, 587–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Roberts,-DeGenarro, M. (1996). An interdisciplinary training model in the field of early intervention. Social Work in Education, 18, 20–29.Google Scholar
  46. St. James, P. J., & Tager-Flusberg, H. (1994). An observational study of humor in autism and Down syndrome. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 24, 603–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Shelton, T. L., & Stepanek, J. S. (1994, September). Family-centered care for children needing specialized health and developmental services (3rd ed.). Bethesda, MD: Associations for the Car of Children’s Health.Google Scholar
  49. Silliman, E. R., Diehl, S. F., Hnath-Chisolm, T., Bouchard Zenko, C., & Friedman, S. A. (2003). A new look at performance on theory-of-mind tasks by adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 236–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Slaughter, V., & Repacholi, B. (2003). Introduction: Individual differences in theory of mind. In B. Repacholi & V. Slaughter (Eds.), Individual differences in theory of mind (pp. 1–12). New York: Taylor & Francis Books.Google Scholar
  51. Sodian, B., & Frith, U. (1992). Deception and sabotage in autistic, retarded, and normal children. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 33, 591–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sodian, B., Taylor, C., Harris, P., & Perner, J. (1992). Early deception and the child’s theory of mind: False trails and genuine markers. Child Development, 62, 468–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tager-Flusberg, H. (1992). Autistic children’s talk about psychological states: Deficits in the early acquisition of a theory of mind. Child Development, 63, 161–172.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tager-Flusberg, H. (1993). What language reveals about the understanding of minds in children with autism. In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. H. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from autism (pp. 138–153). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Tager-Flusberg, H. (1999). The challenge of studying language development in Children with autism. In L. Menn & N. Bernstein Ratner (Eds.), Methods for studying language production (pp. 313–331). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  56. Tager-Flusberg, H. (2001). A reexamination of the theory of mind hypothesis of Autism. In J. A. Burack, T. Charman., N. Yirmiya., & P. R. Zelazo (Eds.), The development of autism: Perspectives from theory and research (pp. 173–193). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  57. Watson, A. C., Nixon, C. L., Wilson, A., & Capage, L. (1999). Social interaction skills and theory of mind in young children. Developmental Psychology, 35, 386–391.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wellman, H. M., & Bartsch, K. (1988). Young children’s reasoning about beliefs. Cognition, 30, 239–277.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wellman, H. M., Cross, D., & Watson, J. (2001). Meta-analysis of theory-of-mind development: The truth about false beliefs. Child Development, 72, 655–684.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Williams, K. T., & Wang, J. (1997). Technical references to the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (3rd Ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  61. Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and the constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition, 13, 103–128.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Yirmiya, N., Erel, O., Shaked, M., & Solomonica-Levi, D. (1998). Meta-analyses comparing theory of mind abilities of individuals with autism, individuals with mental retardation, and normally developing individuals. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 283–307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tiffany L. Hutchins
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laura A. Bonazinga
    • 1
  • Patricia A. Prelock
    • 1
  • Rebecca S. Taylor
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Communication SciencesUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations